What are signs of my dog being scared?

Updated November 21, 2016

Knowing how to tell if your dog is scared is an important part of dog ownership. When your dog is scared, it could behave unpredictably and risk hurting you, someone else or itself. Recognising the signs of fear in a dog will allow you to act quickly when your dog is scared and protect your furry little friend.


A confident, happy dog stands straight and tall with its tail out and wagging or relaxed. Its head is up, its ears are relaxed and you will probably only be able to see the coloured parts of its eyes.

When a dog is scared, however, it gets ready to run or fight, so its posture changes. A dog crouches to lower its stance and tucks its tail between its legs. Its ears either flatten back against its head or stiffen so they are pointed up. It might widen its eyes so that the whites are showing. A dog might also not make direct eye contact once it is scared.


A confident and relaxed dog breathes calmly and deeply. If it is panting, its mouth could be open wide in what looks like a smile. But with the tenseness that comes with a dog feeling fear, its breathing can change as well. If it was happily panting, it might suddenly stop and appear to be holding its breath. Or its panting might quicken so that the dog is hyperventilating. Your dog might also yawn frequently when scared -- a result of holding its breath or shallow breathing.

Mouth Position

A confident, happy dog does not show tension around its mouth. If its mouth is closed, it is relaxed and soft. If your dog is panting happily, its jowls could flap open wide and you will not be able to see much of its front teeth. In a show of strength and warning, however, a scared dog tenses its mouth. It lifts its upper lip and shows its front teeth.


When your dog is relaxed, it makes many different sounds. It might give everything from a hearty, warm bark to a playful squeak or whimper to get your attention. Scared dogs, however, make a low, deep, rumbling growl as a warning to those coming close. Unlike the playful sounds, this growl is even and often gets louder as the source of your dog's fear gets closer.

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